(The Verge) – It’s probably no secret at this point that the Dead Space series has gradually strayed from its survival-horror roots in favor of pure action. The original game was successful in not only creating some amazing tension, but also combining fun third-person shooting with survival-horror elements. Dead Space 3, the latest game in the franchise, definitely leans more towards straight third-person shooting rather than trying to scare you. That’s not to say that there aren’t any scary/disturbing moments in the game, but they are usually at the expense of scripted action set pieces. The good news is that Dead Space 3 plays about as well as the previous games, even if some minor changes to the series’ mechanics hamper the overall experience.
After a quick recap of the events in the last game, Dead Space 3 beings with the main protagonist, Issac Clarke, being approached by a group of soldiers to go on another mission. Ellie, Issac’s partner in Dead Space 2, needs his help in destroying the Markers, the ancient artifacts that are responsible in creating the Necromorphs that you fought in the last two games. Things get interrupted when Issac’s apartment is attacked by the Inner Circle of the Church of Unitology, the religious zealots of the series. This ties in to one of the main problems I have with Dead Space 3, and that is the fact that you spend portions of the game fighting the Unitologists rather than Necromorphs. This might not sound like a big deal, but these sections are the most blatant examples of the game trying to be more of a traditional third-person shooter. The Unitologists will fire at you with live weapons, and the game encourages you to take cover while under fire. Unlike games such as Gears of War or Uncharted, however, Dead Space 3 has no real cover based mechanic, making these sections feel pretty clunky. Also, human enemies will die with a well placed headshot, essentially eliminating any tension that would be there otherwise. This results in boring combat scenarios that will make you wish you were fighting Necromorphs instead.
Thankfully, you won’t have to wait too long before you are fighting the iconic enemies from the previous games again. Once you’ve escaped from the Inner Circle, Issac arrives on an abandoned spaceship, where he must fight his way through countless Necromorphs while hopping back and forth between several other abandoned ships. These are the portion that feels the most like a Dead Space game, and it is unfortunate that the entire game could not be set on these space ships. The environments are very reminiscent of the first two games, and you will instantly feel right at home shooting the limbs of f of Necromorphs with your trusty plasma cutter. You will probably spend a good 90% of the game fighting Necromorphs exclusively, which makes the decision of adding human enemies feel even more unnecessary.
Just when things seem like they couldn’t get any better, they don’t. After you finish your mission on the space crafts, Issac and his team crash land on a local ice planet, where you will spend the remainder of the game. The ice planet is a nice change of pace for the series, offering some visual variety to the environments while also evoking John Carpenter’s The Thing. The problem is that since you no longer spend as much time indoors, a lot of the tension is lost. You have much more space to move around in outdoors, making it less likely to get snuck up on or surprised by the enemies. This is also the part where Dead Space starts to drag, and certain events in the story feel as though they were inserted to artificially lengthen the campaign. Most players will probably beat the game in around eight-twelve hours, and a New Game + mode is unlocked after finishing it the first time, allowing for a good amount of replay value.
If you are playing Dead Space 3 solo, you will encounter a character named John Carver at various times throughout the story. This is the person that would be manned by a second player if you decide to take advantage of the game’s new co-op mode, replacing the multiplayer from Dead Space 2. Carver as a character is extremely bland, embodying your typical stock military-dude stereotype that is all too common in modern games. A similar complaint can be geared to the game’s main antagonist, serving as a generic villain who comes across as more of a hindrance than an actual threat. Although I never held the story of the Dead Space series in very high regard, the story in 3 felt the least interesting to me, and I had little investment in what was actually happening other than to simply get to the ending. I did find the relationship between Issac and Ellie to be well done, and I was genuinely curious to see where they would be by the end of the game. Speaking of the ending, there is a big reveal towards the end that will either leave you indifferent or completely enraged, so look out for that!
While the core gameplay of Dead Space 3 has remained mostly the same, there have been a few changes made to some of the systems, for better or worse. The first, and probably most glaring, is that you can only carry two weapons at a time instead of four. This is incredibly disappointing since swapping back and forth between four sets of weapons was one of my favorite parts of the previous games. In place of where one of your four weapon slots would be is a little robot who will collect resources for you. Resources replace the credits from the first two games and also tie into the new crafting mechanic. Basically, you can create various weapon types by modifying them with different secondary abilities, firing speeds, and scopes. The crafting system is good in theory and lets you mix-and-match weapon types as you see fit, but I found myself simply upgrading the weapons I already had rather than building new ones. For this reason, I think I prefer the method of buying new weapons that was in the previous games. I also wish that, while it’s nice new suits are made available for free as you progress, they would actually improve your chracter like they did before, instead of being just cosmetic. Finally, the inclusion of side missions is a nice gesture, wielding some good rewards in the form of more resources and upgrade slots. Unfortunately, the majority of these missions are uninteresting and are better left skipped, unless you plan on finishing the game to 100% completion.
Dead Space 3 has enough good things working for it to make it worth playing, provided that you are already invested in the series. The earlier sections of the game offer some great tension and atmosphere, while the core gameplay formula still holds up to this day. It’s too bad, then, that there were several key decisions made to the mechanics that prevent Dead Space 3 from reaching the same level of quality its predecessors did.